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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Climbing higher

I love visiting the higher reaches of the mountains on vacations. For almost our whole trip, we camped at elevations above 11,000' and explored even higher elevation mountains by bike and foot. The animals and plants that live so high wildly flourish during a summer that passes in the blink of an eye.

Early in the trip, I did a mountain bike ride that started at an elevation not too much higher than where we live and climbed up above treeline to the alpine zone where snow lingers all summer long. I started in a magical aspen forest with towering green-leaved trees.
When we emerged from the aspen groves, we saw vast meadows with snow-patched mountains awaiting us.
While still low on the mountain, I explored a side trail and spotted a snowshoe hare still wearing white booties along with body fur that had morphed to brown. Nearby, another snowshoe hare foraged, and his fur was completely brown. Long days trigger hares to shed their pure white winter coat and replace it with a brown coat. Brown fur provides much better camouflage in the summer. The hare with the white booties needs to be careful until his fur morph is finished - his bright paws caught my eye and I might have otherwise overlooked him. I wonder if he is 'aware' that he has white paws that attract attention?
Higher still, I climbed over snow banks while hauling my bike, always looking toward the craigy peaks beckoning me.
As I pedaled, K galloped ever higher.
Finally, almost on the top of the world, K sat surrounded by alpine flowers.
The carpet of yellow was Alpine Avens, a brilliant flower that covers open areas high in the mountains.
The tall purple flower in front of K in the photo above was a Sky Pilot, a skunky smelling flower that lives only in the highest places.
Mixed into the carpet surrounding us were diminutive gems, Pygmy Bitterroot blossoms.
Right next to melting snowbanks and even poking through the snow, I saw Snow Buttercups, flowers that love to live "on the edge" of winter. I guessed that the snow bank had melted to uncover their rocky home just the day before. These flowers track the sun, facing east in the morning, straight upward at midday, and southwest by the afternoon, thereby keeping the flower 3-8 degrees warmer than the air. That's a clever trick to allow them to live on the edge of winter.
Part of what I love about our vacations is seeing plants and animals that don't live at our elevation but prefer the mountaintops. Their fighting spirit inspires me because their world has so few warm and easy days of summer.

On that note, even at our elevation, the summer days seem fleeting. My mountain bike ride today was in drenching rain and 45 deg air. I sported chemical hand warmers and toe warmers plus a complete waterproof outer layer. I still arrived home with sickly white toe and fingertips, a result of my easily-triggered Raynaud's Syndrome. Come back, Summer!


  1. Yes, I was out hiking today in cool temps with some hail and rain. The wildflowers seem to be sprouting overnight! Lucky you to see the elusive Pygmy! Today I saw Bog Orchids thriving in a wet, marshy area. I love the photo of K bounding to you with the thin line of trail and craggy peaks behind her.

  2. Sheesh! Summer's out in full force here! It's ninety degrees in the shade. If you want some heat, come on over, although I don't think Old Jumbo will be much of a thrill for you to ride through!

  3. The concept of snow sounds really good right now!

  4. Beautiful. I expected to see Heidi and the grandfather any minute.

  5. it sure is beautiful in your neck of the woods.
    Benny & Lily

  6. I'm learning so much from you and Barb about short summers in mountain living and all the beautiful alpine flowers!


  7. Sky pilots are among my favorites... because of the gorgeous color (they should make yarn that color!), the fabulous name and where they live.

    Looks like you were Riding the Rockies right after I was, just along a different route!

    Yes, our fireworks got rained out. The ones you saw were from last year. :)

  8. While your pix show no evidence of drenching rain, I believe... oh lawdy do I ever! I know how cold those high elevations can get - so glad you're wearing chemical mitts! What beautiful survivors you saw (and photographed so beautifully!). Against the snows of summer, they are incredible! As always, thanks for sharing your rides!
    Hugs xoxoxo
    Sammie and Ma

  9. What The Herd commented and then some!

    BTW, I am SOOOO laughing at my word:


    And we were for a while Wednesday night when we lost power from 6:15 until 10:20

    I love the hare and his white booties -


  10. What wonderful views. The white footed hare is is so peaceful looking. I'd only ever seen aa arctic white hare once - on Hoy in the Orkneys in the north of Scotland.

  11. It looks beautiful! Funny that such a lovely purple flower has a skunky smell, although I've met a few people like that too. =D

  12. Stunning location!! Hope you are staying warm in the 45degree weather.

    Hugs and snaggle-tooth kisses,
    Sierra Rose


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